In a column for evertonfc.com, Everton Under-18s boss Paul Tait discusses a 'challenging but rewarding' season for his team, the young Blues' thrilling FA Youth Cup run, and the moment which 'gave the whole Academy a lift'...
It’s been an extremely challenging season for the players and I’m so proud of how they have conducted themselves.
The pandemic has meant they have had to train and play in very different conditions, but they have been so professional.
They’ve been a credit to themselves, their families and the Club.
It’s been an extremely rewarding season for us, too. Although we only managed to finish fifth in the league, our FA Youth Cup run caught everyone’s imagination.
On the way to the quarter-finals, we beat two top teams in Manchester City and Chelsea, who have dominated the competition over the past decade. The fashion we won those games in was incredible, with two very late winners.
A lot of people watched the cup ties online and the matches introduced Evertonians to our players, which was terrific.
We always say to the boys, with the Youth Cup, you can make memories that will last a lifetime. If you speak to the lads in our First Team who have played in the competition, they’ll tell you every detail about their Youth Cup runs.
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MOMENT EVERTON U18s STUNNED MAN CITY WITH 98th-MINUTE WINNER
Our young players have created some unbelievable memories. You think of Luke Butterfield, who scored that 98th-minute winner at Manchester City, and he’ll never forget that moment.
It was fantastic to see the lads thrive in those big-game situations – and it was great for the staff as well. We want more of it.
MAKING THE NEXT STEP
A lot of the players who featured in that Youth Cup run have made their first appearances for the Under-23s this season. There were seven players aged 18 or under in the side which beat Southampton 4-0 in their last game of the season.
A lot of David Unsworth’s team will be made up of those lads next season – and they have made really good strides in their scholarships.
I think the boys have benefited from the competitive training environment we’ve got here. They are stretching each other every day and you can see the rewards from that.
The next challenge for them is to maintain and improve their performance levels next season, whether that’s in the Under-18 team or when they step up to the Under-23s, because there will be a bit of both.
Two of our young players, Thierry Small and Tyler Onyango, made their First-Team debuts this back in January, with Thierry becoming the Club’s youngest-ever player.
Seeing those lads come on against Sheffield Wednesday in that FA Cup tie gave the whole Academy a lift.
I’m fortunate because I get the players close to the end of their Academy journeys – you’re closer to the end product – but it’s also great for the staff who have worked with the players from an early age group.
They deserve a lot of credit, as well as the boys. We’ve got great staff here at the Everton Academy, not just the coaches, but in all disciplines.
PRIMED FOR 2021/22
I’m already excited about the next campaign and working with the new first-year scholars when they make that step up from the Under-16s.
They have trained with us in the Under-18s twice a week this season and they’re a smashing group. I’m looking forward to helping them further their development. That’s the main aim and always will be.
We obviously want to be competitive in the Under-18 league but our priority must always be to improve and develop our players for the next level.
That’s why we all understand and appreciate our best players will move up to David in the Under-23s or, even better, the First-Team squad. That’s a development coach's job.
Although everyone would like to win leagues and cups because we’re competitive sportspeople, you cannot let that cloud your judgement when you try to develop individuals.